Most people are turned off by their first look at a Ski Club of Washington meeting. It is a mob scene the first Wednesday of each month in the ballroom at the Quality Inn on Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City.
As many as 800 people mill around, crowding the cash bar, greeting old friends and trying to make new ones. It is no place for wallflowers.
The people are mostly in their early 30s, white, and well dressed. Few take an active interest in the business meeting. Even the night's entertainment - a ski movie, a talk by a skiing celebrity, a safety ch clinic - does not interest everyone. Besides meeting people, the main activity seems to be perusing the midway atmosphere of trip and activity booths, where volunteer organizers hawk their wares.
Yet the meeting is not the meat of SCWDC (no one has ever sucessfully come up with an acronym for the club - each letter is pronounced). The meat of SCWDC is the activities. That's what prompts those 800 people to turn out every month, not the other way around.
SCWDC offers activities every week throughout the year, and, most of the year, every day. There is volleyball every Monday with a party afterward, ice skating every Tuesday, a party every Thursday.
This year the club offers 20 bus trips and 10 plane trips to ski areas. Included are jaunts to Canada, Jackson Hole, Switzerland, Strattton, Vt., Whiteface, N.Y., Elk, Pa., Stowe, Vt., Canaan Valley, W. Va., Bryce, Va., and Blue Knob, Pa.
In the summer, members get together to sail, water ski, skin dibe, hike, play touch football or square dance.
SCWDC president Rick McCormick considers himself a typical member. He is 32, single, a government employee (a cartographer for the Defense Mapping Agency). He joined the club only to advertise his ski house in its monthly magazine, but a friend persuaded him to try water skiing that summer.
"I got there and my friend didn't show up. I went anyway. There were 40 people, and I had the best time in my life," McCormick said. "People related to me. There were no defenses like at cocktail parties. I waterskied with them all summer."
McCormick, who had been intimidated by the meetings, returned.
"I found that some of the friends I made during the summer were there," he said.
"I used to be shy," said affable, outgoing McCormick. He was asked to help on an activity and found he enjoyed it. "I liked to do things that I saw I could improve. Since I is a volunteer organization, once you start people keep on asking for your help."
McCormick soon became a board member, and rose inexorably to the presidency.
SCWDC may or may not be the largest ski club in the United States. A few years ago, when its membership was more than 5,000, the rumor was that it topped any other ski club in membership. But no one keeps a verifiable record of the membership rolls of all ski clubs, so SCWDC never claimed that honor. The club has 4,200 memebers this year.
Club membership is $10 a person, plus a $5 initiation fee. The club is set up to make a profit only on social activities; skiing is not a profit-making operation. The profit goes to support other skiing activities, like the free dryland ski school, the racing program and the amputee skiing prograM.
Aside from friendship-forming, the big advantage of SCWDC - or any other ski club - is the trip packages. Dollar for dollar they are cheaper than commercial packages and person for person they provide more camaraderie than solo trips.
All SCWDC trips are escorted. That means that the trip leader, who has worked out all the trip leader, who has worked out all the deals with the transportation line, the hotel, the ski area and the restaurants, is on hand to deal with problems. He or she (it is a volunteer post) is also out to make sure you have a good time, that you are included in the fun at the parties, that your skis do not get lost at the airport and that you will have friends around if you have a problem.
The club's many bus trips may not be cheaper than driving, but they offer fancy places to stay and a party in all off-ski hours.
"People who go on our trips like to party," McCormick said.
SCWDC was formed 40 years ago by 81 people who liked to ski and decided to get together and get the B&O railroad to put an extra car on its Sunday train through ski country in Pennsylvania. From 1951 to 1962 SCWDC has its own ski area in Davis, W. Va. It was only after that that the variety and number of trips now offered was begun.